Meet the CEO who makes your dog-food delivery feel like visiting a Disney resort

Podcast Singh

There is conflicting evidence about the gravity of the pandemic puppy boom when it appeared as if nearly everyone had adopted a dog as a lockdown companion. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported that more than 23 million American households—nearly 1 in 5 nationwide—adopted a pet during the pandemic, but other localized studies suggest that it wasn’t as big of a boom as we thought. 

Either way, sentiment about pets has changed. Nearly all U.S. pet owners say their pets are part of their family, according to a July 2023 Pew Research Center survey. And Chewy, the premier pet-care e-commerce company, takes that ball and runs with it by having hyper-personalized interactions with its customers, which they fondly call “pet parents.”

“Twenty or thirty years ago, the pet was out on the porch. Today, they’re on the couch, they’re in your bed. And today, you refer to them as family,” Chewy CEO Sumit Singh told Fortune in a recent Leadership Next podcast interview. Singh refers to this concept as the humanization of pets, which has “led to the consumer wanting to be more aware and feel like a better pet parent.” 

High-touch customer care

Singh became CEO of Chewy in March 2018 and led the company through its IPO in 2019, raising more than $1 billion in the process. While it’s been a busy six years in the saddle, Singh makes time for direct customer interactions—a task rarely taken on by CEOs. He answers customer emails directly, and ensures they receive intimate attention during the “highs and lows of pet parenting,” like when a beloved pet has died. You may have seen some of these gestures on social media, such as Chewy sending customers flowers, handwritten cards, and even hand-drawn pet portraits. 

“We are sympathetic, empathetic,” Singh said. “That moment is a very special moment because most companies will not invest ‘X’ number of dollars to be able to pick up flowers to send to customers and be there in that moment for them.”

But Singh remains dedicated to this level of care because he wants all Chewy customers to feel as if they’re visiting a Disney park every time they interact with the brand. 

“I compare Chewy to the best hospitality resorts in the way that you are served, in the way that you are treated, and the way that you received [service], and in the way that you’re respected when you walk through the hospitality resorts,” Singh said. “We are delivering the scale and convenience of e-commerce but [with] the best personalized service you should expect at the best local neighborhood pet store.” 

About Sumit Singh

Singh grew up in middle-class India with the values of “high respect for education and humility and curiosity and resilience,” he said. But he made his move to America, the “massive, amazing land of opportunity,” and went on to earn his master’s in operations and logistics from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from the highly competitive University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Singh held senior leadership roles at Amazon and Dell, companies which he said are “pioneers in their own fields.” At Amazon, he became a leader to help grow the e-commerce giant’s Fresh grocery business, which was a “very difficult business to crack,” he said, an experience that taught him how to run perishable consumable businesses and manage a “tough” P&L. But one of the non-technical lessons he learned during his time at Amazon was the importance of personalized customer interactions, even at the highest levels of leadership. 

“My email is available on LinkedIn. Customers contact me, [which is something] I learned from Jeff Bezos,” Singh said. “We’ve maintained a culture of innovation, a culture of customer service. I still read every email.”

And even in a working world where AI is seemingly affecting customer interactions, Singh sees the nascent technology as more of a “friend” to the company’s existing customer care representatives. In fact, Chewy is currently developing a tool called “CSR Buddy,” which will essentially serve as a prompter tool that has all of the information about the customer and a knowledge base that “will marry content to let [customer care representatives] have more intelligent conversations” with customers, Singh said. 

“They shouldn’t spend time looking for information,” Singh said. “They should spend time having the conversation. That’s the difference.”

Under Singh’s leadership at Chewy, where he had previously served as chief operating officer from August 2017 to March 2018 before becoming CEO, the company has grown to an $8.3 billion market value—and it was recognized as a 2023 World’s Most Admired Company by Fortune, among the likes of Disney, Amazon, and Apple.

And while Singh didn’t necessarily come from an animal-centric career, he recognizes the importance of the companionship a pet offers. Indeed, his 11-year-old shih tzu, named D, is the chief treat tester, and frequents Chewy’s office with him. But D doesn’t let his status get to his furry head among the other pups who come to the workplace with their pet parents.

“I don’t think he realizes he’s that special,” Singh said.

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